[tor-project] OONI Monthly Report: February 2023


This email shares OONI’s monthly report for February 2023.

# OONI Monthly Report: February 2023

Throughout February 2023, the OONI team worked on the following sprints:

  • Sprint 84 (1st-12th February 2023)
  • Sprint 85 (13th-28th February 2023)

Our work can be tracked through the various OONI GitHub repositories: https://github.com/ooni

Highlights are shared in this report below.

## Published research report on internet censorship in Russia

On 24th February 2023 (1 year since the start of the war in Ukraine), we co-published a new research report, in collaboration with Roskomsvoboda, which documents how Internet censorship in Russia changed over the last year based on OONI data analysis.

Read our report in:

You can also read Roskomsvoboda’s publication about the report here: https://roskomsvoboda.org/post/rks-ooni-odin-god/

Overall, OONI data analysis shows the blocking of 494 domains in Russia. Many more websites are also blocked, beyond those tested. The blocked domains fall under 28 categories, suggesting pervasive levels of internet censorship in Russia.

New blocks that emerged in Russia over the last year include:

  • Blocking of Russian & international human rights websites (e.g. Human Rights Watch & Amnesty International)
  • Blocking of investigative journalism & news media sites
  • Blocking of Instagram, SoundCloud and Patreon

Access to the Tor Project’s website was temporarily unblocked in Russia between 15th to 28th July 2022. Several discontinued sites have been unblocked over the last year (possibly as part of a “blocklist cleanup”).

We confirmed the blocking of 48 domains (including a Let’s Encrypt domain) based on OONI data, which do not appear to be included in Russia’s official blocking registry. OONI data also suggests that access to a major CDN was blocked in the past year.

## Published research report on internet censorship in Azerbaijan

On 28th February 2023, we co-published a new research report on internet censorship in Azerbaijan, in collaboration with our partner, Azerbaijan Internet Watch. As part of this research, we analyzed OONI data collected from Azerbaijan over the last year.

The report was published by:

As part of our analysis of OONI measurements collected from Azerbaijan between January 2022 to February 2023, we found:

* Blocking of news media websites. Azerbaijan continues to block access to several independent news media websites. OONI data also suggests that some ISPs in Azerbaijan may have started blocking access to the Guardian on 25th December 2022.

* Azerbaijan and Russia block each other’s news media. In early June 2022, Azerbaijan started blocking access to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti media website. Since (at least) 7th June 2022, Russian ISPs have been blocking access to Azerbaijani news media websites (haqqin.az, minval.az, oxu.az, ru.oxu.az, ru.baku.ws). These blocks remain ongoing.

* Temporary blocking of TikTok amid border clashes with Armenia. During the September 2022 border clashes, both Azerbaijan and Armenia blocked access to TikTok. While the TikTok block was lifted in Armenia by 21st September 2022 (only lasting about a week), the TikTok block remained in place in Azerbaijan until November 2022 (lasting about 2 months).

* Blocking of circumvention tool sites. Azerbaijan continues to block access to numerous circumvention tool websites, potentially limiting the ability to circumvent internet censorship in Azerbaijan. However, most OONI measurements suggest that tested circumvention tools (Tor and Psiphon) appear to be reachable.

* Variance of censorship across networks. While most ISPs in Azerbaijan appear to adopt similar censorship techniques (as we continued to observe connection timeouts in most anomalous measurements across ASNs), different ISPs block access to different websites over time.

## Published report on social media blocks in Ethiopia

On 15th February 2023, we published a report on the blocking of social media platforms in Ethiopia.

OONI data from Ethiopia showed the ongoing blocking of:

  • Facebook and Telegram (since 9th February 2023)
  • YouTube (since 10th February 2023)

Read the report here: https://ooni.org/post/2023-ethiopia-blocks-social-media/

## Published report on DW and Wikipedia blocking in Pakistan

On 15th February 2023, we published a report on the blocking of Wikipedia and Deutsche Welle (DW) in Pakistan.

OONI data from Pakistan showed:

  • Access to Wikipedia restricted between 1st-6th February 2023 (48-hour degradation, followed by block)
  • Ongoing blocking of Deutsche Welle (DW) since (at least) 16th January 2023

Read the report here: https://ooni.org/post/2023-pakistan-blocks-wikipedia-and-dw/

## Published report on Twitter throttling in Turkey

On 15th February 2023, we published a report on the throttling and DNS blocking of Twitter in Turkey in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake.

On 8th February 2023, OONI data from Turkey showed that access to Twitter was throttled on at least 4 networks, and blocked by means of DNS interference on other networks.

Read the report here: https://ooni.org/post/2023-turkey-throttling-blocking-twitter/

## OONI reports for the ISOC Pulse project on Internet shutdowns

As a data partner for ISOC’s Pulse Shutdown project (https://pulse.internetsociety.org/shutdowns), we have been working on creating “OONI reports” (with relevant OONI data, interpretation, and charts) for all of the “service blocking” entries listed on the Pulse shutdown timeline (ranging from March 2018 to February 2023) over the last year.

In February 2023, we completed this work, having written the “Data and analysis” section for all “service blocking” entries of the ISOC Pulse Shutdown timeline (where relevant OONI data exists). As part of this work, we found that OONI data is available for almost all blocking events reported worldwide over the last 5 years (at least based on those listed on the ISOC Pulse shutdown timeline).

In total, we wrote 49 OONI reports for the ISOC Pulse shutdown timeline. These reports will be included in the “Data and analysis” section of “service blocking” entries.

## OONI Probe Mobile

In February 2023, we continued to improve upon the OONI Probe mobile app.

Specifically, we:

## OONI Run

OONI Run (https://run.ooni.io/) can be translated via the Transifex (https://explore.transifex.com/otf/ooni-run/) platform.

In February 2023, thanks to the Localization Lab community, OONI Run was translated into 6 languages: Chinese, German, Thai, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.

## OONI Probe CLI

In February 2023, we released OONI Probe CLI 3.17.0: https://github.com/ooni/probe-cli/releases/tag/v3.17.0

Notably, OONI Probe CLI 3.17.0 includes an updated version (v0.5.20) of the Web Connectivity experiment, a TLS middlebox experiment, backend proxy support for Tor Snowflake, OONI Run improvements, and many other improvements (https://github.com/ooni/probe-cli/releases/tag/v3.17.0).

This new release will be the first one to support providing richer input to experiments. We now support dynamically instructing the probes to enable experimental Web Connectivity functionality through the OONI backend.

As part of this release cycle, we investigated two issues related to running tor on Android devices. The first issue (https://gitlab.torproject.org/tpo/core/tor/-/issues/40747, https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2405) deals with the OONI Probe Android app receiving a SIGABRT signal because tor closes a file descriptor twice, thus triggering Android’s fdsan (https://android.googlesource.com/platform/bionic/+/master/docs/fdsan.md). We patched the problem as part of the OONI Probe CLI 3.17.0 release. The second issue deals with a mysterious SIGABRT crash that we are still investigating.

While testing OONI Probe CLI 3.17.0, we also noticed and investigated excessive CPU usage in the Web Connectivity test helper (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2413). We modified the codebase to add support for profiling, started fixing the most obvious issues, and increased the number of test helper hosts to spread the load among them.

As part of testing, we also triaged the following data quality issues:

We fixed some of these data quality issues, as documented below:

Where feasible, we backported to the OONI Probe CLI 3.17.0 branch.

After M-Lab deprecated their locatev1 API, we also migrated the DASH experiment to use the locatev2 API and included this patch into the 3.17.0 branch (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2398).

We also started working on exposing the OONI engine API, which is part of the probe-cli repository, as a dynamic library (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2414).

## Expanding OONI’s testing model to support richer testing input

The OONI Probe CLI 3.17.0 release (https://github.com/ooni/probe-cli/releases/tag/v3.17.0) starts adding support for richer testing input (https://github.com/ooni/ooni.org/issues/1291). We also continued to improve such support in the main development branch of OONI Probe CLI and OONI API. Specifically, we modified the API to directly return test helper information inside the check-in API response (https://github.com/ooni/probe/issues/2392).

We also started working on a design document regarding the richer testing input functionality and we began working on the related PoC (https://github.com/ooni/probe-cli/pull/1075).

## Creating a throttling measurement methodology

As part of our plans to create a methodology for measuring throttling (https://github.com/ooni/ooni.org/issues/1296), we started sketching out a possible integration testing strategy.

At the end of this reporting period, we wrote a diff for probe-cli (https://gist.github.com/bassosimone/3ce52a37fc7394f7cce82391685c5477) which works as follows:

  • We hijack the core networking code to use a GVisor-based (https://gvisor.dev/) TCP/IP stack in userspace;
  • We connect this stack, representing the OONI Probe client with other GVisor stacks representing servers;
  • We add latency and throttling on those virtual channels when the network traffic meets specified conditions (e.g., depending on the SNI used during the TLS handshake).

Writing good integration tests for this upcoming functionality is crucial to ensure that we do not break the Web Connectivity experiment while applying the necessary changes to add support for collecting network performance metrics (as planned: https://github.com/ooni/ooni.org/issues/1297).

## OONI Explorer

We continued to work with a designer on the new OONI Explorer domain and network centric pages (https://github.com/ooni/explorer/pull/830). We updated the copy for the user feedback reporting system and we worked on end-to-end tests. We made improvements to the third-party data integration, notably adding support for the caching of proxied Cloudflare requests and other UI changes (https://github.com/ooni/explorer/pull/831). We also released a new MAT filter that allows showing data for different time intervals: hourly, daily, weekly and monthly.

## OONI backend

Through February 2023, we continued to work on a series of backend improvements.

Specifically, we:

## Automating censorship detection and characterization based on OONI measurements

We made stable progress on the OONI data analysis tool (https://github.com/ooni/data). Specifically, we:

  • Made several improvements to the tooling that can be used for creating plots that allow us to assess how well the analysis performs (https://github.com/ooni/data/pull/25);
  • Added support for mapping several “unknown_failures” that are a result of software bugs, ensuring that the data is more clean and can be better analyzed (https://github.com/ooni/data/pull/25/commits/dc6517e0148be6c571a9e0768b50b5c3bccfee48):
  • Started exploring the possibility of performing the analysis directly inside of the database engine (as opposed to doing in python code). This resulted in a 10x performance increase, allowing us to analyze one day’s worth of OONI data in just over 5 minutes (compared to 2 hours of the python implementation).

We also ingested new blocking fingerprints (https://github.com/ooni/pipeline/pull/407) into the fastpath data processing pipeline, thereby automatically detecting and confirming more cases of website blocking around the world.

To evaluate how effectively OONI Probe measures and detects cases of internet censorship, we compared measurements from Indonesia (that show blocking) with Indonesia’s (“DNS-Trust”) blocking registry (https://github.com/alsyundawy/dnstrust-apjii). We found that OONI measurements that show DNS-based censorship are consistent with Indonesia’s blocklist.

## Creating a Social Media Censorship Alert System

We continued to make progress on the initial event detector developed for the new Social Media Censorship Alert System (https://github.com/ooni/backend/issues/629). Specifically, we ran experiments using Pandas, added more tests, and generated PNG/SVGs as part of the testing.

## Creating a new OONI Outreach Kit

Throughout February 2023, we coordinated with Ura Design (https://ura.design/), who worked on designing the new OONI Outreach Kit materials. We are aiming to publish the Outreach Kit in March 2023.

## Coordination of translation of OONI documents

Throughout February 2023, we coordinated with translators with regards to the translation of several OONI documents into 5 languages: Arabic, Farsi, Russia, Swahili, and Spanish. We are aiming to publish the translated documents in March 2023.

## Test list updates

We coordinated with our partner, TEDIC (https://ooni.org/partners/tedic/), who provided extensive updates for the test list of Paraguay: https://github.com/citizenlab/test-lists/pull/1224

The test list for Cambodia was also updated extensively by API Cambodia (iMAP partner): https://github.com/citizenlab/test-lists/pull/1214

We reviewed and merged many other test list pull requests contributed by community members: https://github.com/citizenlab/test-lists/pulls?q=is%3Apr+is%3Aclosed

## Rapid response

### Wikipedia blocking in Pakistan

Access to Wikipedia was temporarily restricted in Pakistan between 1st to 6th February 2023.

We rapidly responded by sharing relevant OONI data collected from Pakistan (and encouraging further testing) on Twitter: https://twitter.com/OpenObservatory/status/1620845976645963778 and https://twitter.com/OpenObservatory/status/1621449233852252160

We subsequently published a report: https://ooni.org/post/2023-pakistan-blocks-wikipedia-and-dw/

### Social media blocks in Iraq

On 6th February 2023, community members in Iraq reported to the #KeepItOn mailing list that access to social media platforms (WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) would be banned during the country’s final exams, starting on 5th February 2023 and ending on 13th February 2023 (from 4 am to 12 pm local time). The decision was made by the PMO based on the ministry of education recommendation.

We shared relevant OONI data with the #KeepItOn campaign on these blocks.

### Twitter throttling in Turkey

On 8th February 2023, in the aftermath of the earthquakes, Turkey throttled access to Twitter.

Real-time OONI data collected from Turkey showed the block: https://explorer.ooni.org/chart/mat?probe_cc=TR&test_name=web_connectivity&domain=twitter.com&since=2023-01-09&until=2023-02-09&axis_x=measurement_start_day

We rapidly responded by analyzing relevant OONI data collected from Turkey and sharing our analysis through a Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/OpenObservatory/status/1623398643595182083

OONI data showed that access to Twitter was throttled on at least 4 networks, and blocked by means of DNS on other networks.

We subsequently published a report: https://ooni.org/post/2023-turkey-throttling-blocking-twitter/

### Social media blocks in Ethiopia

On 9th February 2023, amid church split tensions and calls for anti-government protests, access to social media platforms was reportedly blocked in Ethiopia.

We rapidly responded by sharing relevant OONI data collected from Ethiopia (and encouraging further testing) on Twitter: https://twitter.com/OpenObservatory/status/1624045402679873540 and https://twitter.com/OpenObservatory/status/1624761465453379584

We subsequently published a report: https://ooni.org/post/2023-ethiopia-blocks-social-media/

## Community use of OONI data

### Paper on internet censorship in Russia

Censored Planet (in collaboration with other researchers) published a paper (“Network Responses to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine in 2022: A Cautionary Tale for Internet Freedom”) which analyzes OONI data (along with Censored Planet data) to examine internet censorship in Russia following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Their paper (which was accepted to appear in USENIX Security 2023) is available here: https://censoredplanet.org/assets/russia-ukraine-invasion.pdf

### Paper on censorship data analysis

Censored Planet and Jigsaw published a paper (“Advancing the Art of Censorship Data Analysis”) which discusses the challenges involved in analyzing censorship measurement data. This paper shares examples from OONI data and other public censorship datasets (such as Censored Planet).

Their paper (which was published by FOCI) is available here: https://www.petsymposium.org/foci/2023/foci-2023-0003.pdf

### Data Journalism guide for measuring internet shutdowns

Journalist Sabrina Faramarzi published an article (“Kill switch: reporting on and during internet shutdowns”) which aims to serve as a guide for data journalists interested in measuring internet shutdowns. This article features an interview with OONI’s Maria, where she discusses why journalists should use OONI data to investigate internet censorship around the world.

The article is available here: https://datajournalism.com/read/longreads/internet-shutdowns-data-reporting

## Community activities

### OONI workshop for civil society in Azerbaijan

On 1st February 2023, OONI’s Elizaveta facilitated an OONI workshop for civil society groups in Azerbaijan. This workshop was hosted in collaboration with our partner, Azerbaijan Internet Watch (https://ooni.org/partners/azerbaijan-internet-watch/). The goal of the workshop was to introduce civil society groups in Azerbaijan to OONI tools to help boost OONI measurement coverage in Azerbaijan.

### FOSDEM 2023

On 4th and 5th February 2023, OONI’s Federico attended FOSDEM (https://fosdem.org/2023/) in Brussels.

### OONI workshop for human rights defenders in Nigeria

On 16th February 2023, OONI’s Elizaveta facilitated an OONI workshop for human rights defenders in Nigeria. This workshop was hosted in collaboration with our partner, Paradigm Initiative (https://ooni.org/partners/paradigm-initiative/). The goal of the workshop was to introduce participants to OONI tools and data, encouraging censorship measurement leading up to and during Nigeria’s 2023 elections (which may trigger new censorship events).

### OONI Run demo for the Localization Lab community

On 22nd February 2023, OONI’s Elizaveta provided an OONI Run (https://run.ooni.io/) demo for the Localization Lab community to encourage the translation of the platform.

### Live OONI session for the OPTIMA community in Senegal

On 23rd February 2023, OONI’s Elizaveta briefly presented OONI and addressed questions as part of Internews’ live OPTIMA session for community members in Senegal.

### OONI Community Meeting

On 28th February 2023, we hosted the monthly OONI Community Meeting on our Slack channel (https://slack.ooni.org/), during which we discussed the following topics:

  1. Updates from the OONI team.
  2. Upcoming conferences and opportunities for censorship measurement sessions.
  3. Community feedback on early beta testing of OONI tools.

## Measurement coverage

In February 2023, 57,841,940 OONI Probe measurements were collected from 2,844 AS networks in 164 countries around the world.

This information can also be found through our measurement stats on OONI Explorer (see chart on “monthly coverage worldwide”): https://explorer.ooni.org/

~ OONI team.

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